Beyond equality: the place of Aboriginal culture in the Australian game of football

Barry Judd, Tim Butcher

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

This paper provides an overview of Aboriginal interventions in the sport of Australian (Rules) Football in the period since the formation of the Australian Football League (AFL) in 1990. Recalling several pivotal events that have defined and redefined the relationship between Aboriginal people and the Australian game of football, this paper finds that the struggle to end on-field racial vilification in the 1990s attracted widespread support from the overwhelmingly non-Aboriginal public because these actions were consistent with the political principle of equality. The key actions of Nicky Winmar and Michael Long gained general appeal because they demanded that Aboriginal people be treated as though they were Anglo-Australians. In this regard, the 1990s fight against on-field racism in the AFL was a continuation of the Aboriginal struggle for rights associated with Australian citizenship. As the 1967 Commonwealth referenda on Aborigines demonstrated, most Anglo-Australians understood and supported the political principle of equality even though the promise of citizenship in substantive improvements to social and economic outcomes almost 50 years later remains largely unfulfilled. 


Nevertheless, in the recently concluded 2015 AFL season, Adam Goodes, the most highly decorated Aboriginal man to play the sport at the highest level, was effectively booed into retirement. Goodes became a controversial and largely disliked figure in the sport when he used the public honour of being 2014 Australian of the Year to highlight the disadvantage and historical wrongs that continue to adversely impact Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and their communities. This paper argues that Goodes effectively sought to shift the paradigm of Aboriginal struggle beyond the sympathetic notions of racism and equal treatment to issues of historical fact that imply First Nations rights associated with cultural practice. Goodes' career initiates a new discussion about the place that Aboriginal cultures, traditions and understandings might have in the sport today. His decision to perform an Aboriginal war dance demonstrates that the new paradigm we propose is primarily about the political principle of difference, not equality.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)68-84
Number of pages1
JournalAustralian Aboriginal Studies
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2016
Externally publishedYes

    Fingerprint

Cite this